People seem to think that girls are genetically pre-disposed to love pink, and that to say that there’s something wrong with everything for girls being made in pink is somehow denying girls’ human rights. Well, when I was a kid, girls liked lots of different colours. Some liked pink, it’s true, but we all wore lots of different colours 1. I also think that girls played with a greater variety of toys. I was a real tomboy (I’m sure that surprises no-one), and although I did have a few dolls, I also played with Lego, Meccano, my brother’s toy cars and planes, and I made tree-houses and go-carts. I find it a bit creepy that some people seem to think that it’s perfectly normal for little girls to be obsessed with only one colour.
“I like pink, but when you just want something in a different colour, all the choice for girls is pink! So I sometimes even end up getting the boy’s ones, because I would rather have blue than pink!” – Ella, 11, on Newsround, December 2009
(Not much has changed. If you search Early Learning Centre for “toys for girls”, you find a page of pink: the “toys for boys” have a much wider ranger of colours.)
Many years ago I was struggling at Maths O-grade. My parents (bless them) paid a maths graduate from the university for a couple of hours tuition once a week, for two or three months before I took the exam, and his careful explanations helped a lot. I’d concluded I wasn’t good at maths. He asked me, towards the end of our last session, to add the numbers 1 to 100 together and give him the answer. “In my head?” I asked him. “Any way you like,” he told me. I had pen and paper and a calculator to hand. My first thought was to start adding 1+2+3+4… and then I thought, no, if I add 1+100 that’s 101, if I add 2+99 that’s 101, there will be 50 such additions, so the answer’s 5050. And I told him. It took me about a minute. He smiled, and he told me this story about Carl Friedrich Gauss.
A teacher had given the class some busywork to do – just that problem, add together the numbers one to a hundred. The teacher expected this to occupy the class for quite a while as they added 1+2+3+4+5… but the boy Gauss thought about the problem for a few minutes and got the answer. It is a well-known story among mathmos, but not one I’d ever heard, and I’d never been presented with that problem before.
In 1989 the Barbie Liberation Organization was formed. In 1992 they carried out the best customer action against sexist toys ever:
Taking advantage of similarities in the voice hardware of Teen Talk Barbie and the Talking Duke G.I. Joe doll, er, “action figure,” they [bought] several hundred of each and performed a stereotype-change operation on the lot.